Monthly Archives: November 2012

Review: ‘The Expats’ by Chris Pavone.

I’ll admit I bought this book for two reasons: it was 20p on Kindle and it had ‘Expats’ in the title so I thought it was going to be an account, albeit fictional, of people living abroad. Which it kind of was but certainly not in the way I was expecting. This book delivered so much more than I hoped for.

Initially, the story sounds familiar: Kate is a working mother, struggling to keep her home life afloat, juggling childcare and her duties as a wife and mother with her full-time job. That’s when it goes off the map because Kate’s job isn’t as an admin assistant or a teacher or a doctor or a CEO. Kate’s job is literally a state secret. Her beloved husband has no idea of Kate’s double identity but when he’s offered a lucrative job in Luxembourg, Kate agrees – sensing a way out of her increasingly demanding job.

Kate envisages reinventing herself as a stay-at-home mum and, for a little while, it looks as though that will be possible although Kate is frustrated by the small tasks of washing, cleaning and care-giving she’s never experienced before. The arrival of another American couple upsets Kate’s new routine. She’s certain her secrets have caught up with her. She decides to dig around to see if she can find proof that this pair have come for her. However, Kate finds so much more than she bargained for.

Chris Pavone’s book is a really intriguing, well-thought-out story. The web that he weaves between his characters is so intricate that the mind boggles – how did he manage to keep track of it all? The narrative is so clever and so fast-paced that it will leave you gasping for breath. Pavone captures the paranoia suffered by Kate and transforms it into something very real.

The narrative manages to weave the mundane life of an expat wife with the espionage of the CIA. Kate goes from dropping the kids off at school to hanging off a window ledge at her nemesis’ office. She picks up Ikea furniture and assembles guns. The disparity between the two facets of Kate’s character may sound completely unbelievable but Pavone’s switching between past and present helps you understand this very complex character.

There’s a cast of secondary characters who are also well-drawn and intriguing and the descriptions about areas in Europe the characters visit are really vivid.

A genuinely good read.

Vic x

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Review: ‘A Meeting of a Different Kind’ by Linda MacDonald.

‘A Meeting of a Different Kind’ is Linda MacDonald’s follow-up to her very successful ‘Meeting Lydia’. However, it is a wonderful stand-alone book so if you haven’t read ‘Meeting Lydia’, don’t let that put you off.

The story centres around archaeologist Edward Harvey, who is shocked when his wife Felicity inherits a great deal of money and decides to give up her job, open a restaurant and turn their home into an eco-farm. Edward is even more perturbed by the fact that Felicity has decided to do all of this without consulting him.

Luckily for Edward, he has old school-friend Marianne emailing him with helpful suggestions on how to cope with the upheaval in his life.

Marianne tells her friend Taryn all about Edward and his emails but is then betrayed when Taryn hatches a plan to prove that Edward isn’t as perfect as he appears.

This story is well-written and explores many aspects of human fragility. The characters are believable and their individual stories are well thought-out. There is plenty for the reader to become invested in and you will find yourself caring for each and every one of the characters.

This is not a boy-meets-girl typical chick lit. It examines all the different kinds of love that can exist in the world. It considers life in a realistic way and it appears MacDonald understands people, women in particular, far more deeply than most writers.

Personally, I would have preferred MacDonald to have gone even deeper with some of the psychological conditions that she alluded to but I think that is due to my interest in the subject.

All in all, ‘A Meeting of a Different Kind’ is a great read.

Vic x

Review: ‘Skyfall’ ***Contains spoilers***

OK, I know I’m in for a lot of grief here but I’ll admit up until a couple of weeks ago, I had never seen a Bond film all the way through. The only times I’ve seen them is if there’s been one on TV and The Boy Wonder decided to watch it despite it only having 30 minutes left. I suppose it’s a bit of a surprise considering I am a bit of a geek. I adore Batman but Bond has just never figured in my life.
However, after hearing about “the gritty reboot” and seeing trailers that looked pretty good, I thought I’d give ‘Skyfall’ a go.
I thought the cinematography was good. The action sequences were pretty impressive and the product placement was nowhere near as invasive as I was expecting.
BUT…………
Some might say that director Sam Mendes has “paid homage” to ‘Apocalypse Now’, ‘The Dark Knight’, ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ and ‘The Woman in Black’ but as far as I’m concerned, he ripped them off.
The Baddie, Silva, played by Javier Bardem was a cross between Hannibal Lector and Heath Ledger’s Joker. His peroxide hair, his unhinged and inappropriate excitement at the thought of mischief along with his ability to anticipate what his nemeses will do seemed like a take-off of Heath Ledger’s far superior role. It seems like he’s watched ‘The Dark Knight’, seen the excitement Ledger’s performance produced and thought “That’s what I need to do to portray a ‘good villain'”. But his portrayal falls completely short.
One scene which shows Silva locked in a “high security” part of the London Underground which MI6 is using as its temporary home since Silva blew up their usual digs. It looked like an exact replica of the scene where Hannibal Lector is caged in the penthouse suite of a hotel, awaiting transfer. Surprise, surprise, they both managed to escape.
How did Silva escape? By engaging the only man guarding him in conversation and attacking him. Correct me if I’m wrong but The Joker also did that.
Oh, and after’s Silva’s escape, the “goodies” realise it was part of his plan to get caught all along. Just like The Joker in ‘The Dark Knight’. Escaping from a secure place seems to be a common trope of villains in recent blockbusters.
One thing I did like about Silva, though, was the unlikely sexual tension between him and Bond and his undeniable Oedipus Complex regarding M although I still think that idea could have been developed further.
I found it difficult to suspend my disbelief: is this James Bond or Aquaman? Bond managed to survive drowning at least twice.
My main thought throughout this film was: I didn’t know they were bringing out another Batman film so soon.
A manor house set alight, a derailed train, a skyscraper with a set-to, a manic villain whose plan requires him to get caught then break-out. Plus, the villain disguising himself as a policeman. Even Thomas Newman’s soundtrack appeared to have taken “inspiration” from Hans Zimmer; Newman’s music was far more loud and booming than his previous soundtracks.
One issue that I had with both ‘Dark Knight Rises’ and ‘Skyfall’ was the pointless exposition in the dialogue. Why don’t filmmakers believe the old adage “show, don’t tell”. Don’t condescend your audience – they don’t need your constant explanations.
The idea that the story would feature more on M was a great idea but I felt it didn’t go anywhere near deep enough. The characters generally seemed underdeveloped and I felt the actors featured didn’t have their opportunity to really shine. They did the best with the script they were given.
I liked Q although I think Chris Addison or Richard Ayode would have been better suited to the role. I did wonder whether any of the technology used in the film could be used in real life. I can’t even get a signal in open land, never mind on the Tube.
I thought Daniel Craig’s run was rather – unintentionally – funny. It was as though he thought he’d appear faster by lifting his knees to his chest and moving his arms a lot.
The final set piece, set in Scotland, was drawn-out and completely ridiculous. The misty, dark and creepy house had me half expecting to see some evil spirit knocking around a la ‘The Woman in Black’. While M, Bond and the caretaker set traps, I thought ‘Skyfall’ had entered ‘Home Alone’ territory. I thought Harry and Marv were going to pop up and stand on some shattered Christmas decorations.
Questions that popped into my head whilst watching the final set-to in ‘Skyfall’.
Why did he take all tracking devices off his car, refuse help from the MI-6 but lead Silva to his manor home anyway?
Wouldn’t it have been easier to throw Silva off the scent entirely?
Why didn’t Bond shut the door to the secret passage after setting up the bomb?
Why did he stand waiting in the tunnel until the flames approached him?
How did Bond escape any kind of burns?
Why did Silva’s goon look so cocky on the ice, despite knowing Bond had killed most of his co-workers?
Why didn’t the caretaker turn the bloody torch off when they were in the little church? How did Bond not drown again?!
Many Bond fans see this as a tour de force but I felt it could have been a lot better.
Vic x

Getting to Know You (again): Alexander McNabb.

Alexander McNabb enjoyed appearing on the blog last time that he’s gone and written another piece for elementaryvwatson! Today Alexander discusses how his new novel ‘Beirut’ came about – and how fate can always surprise you.

Vic x

‘Beirut – An Explosive Thriller’ happened after a British literary agent rejected the manuscript that would become my first book, ‘Olives – A Violent Romance’, with the immortal words, “It’s not dramatic enough”.

Right, you lot, I thought. Let’s give you dramatic. The result is a romp through Hamburg, Prague, Spain, Malta, Albania, the Greek Islands and, of course, that sexiest and richest of cities, Beirut.

Beirut’s got it all. It’s got nuclear warheads, psychotic arms dealers, hookers, sex, guns, bombs and spies as well as murderous sophisticates and $40 million luxury yachts. It’s amazing how much mayhem you can pack into a hundred thousand words.

The book tells the story of billionaire Lebanese businessman Michel Freij, who is poised to become the next president of Lebanon. His dramatic calls for a new, strong regional role for the country take on a sinister note when European intelligence reveals Freij has bought two ageing Soviet nuclear warheads from a German arms dealer.

It’s down to “difficult” British intelligence officer Gerald Lynch to find the warheads, believed to be on board super-yacht the Arabian Princess, before they can reach Lebanon. Lynch is pitched into a deadly clash with Freij and his violent militia as he pursues the Arabian Princess across the Mediterranean.

It’s even got a dramatic cover – the ‘lipstick bullet’ created for me by Lebanese art director Jessy Shoucair – was intended to communicate the mix of sexiness and violence in the book without crying out ‘civil war’, an event which – although it ended over twenty years ago – people in the West still, infuriatingly, associate with the city.

I needn’t have bothered. Beirut had a little surprise waiting for me. Just after the online edition of ‘Beirut – An Explosive Thriller’ went live, a huge bomb was detonated there, killing the head of Lebanese intelligence and several others, wounding tens more. The bomb was set off in a busy square on a Friday afternoon. It could hardly have been calculated to cause more damage – to people and property, let alone Lebanon’s stumbling tourism industry. I watched that event in real-time on Twitter, right from the very first tweet to the mess of thousands of concerned people, mobile networks failing and mainstream media fighting to be first to get the story and just muddying the water as they tweeted anything and everything they came across.

I have many friends in Beirut, and Beiruti friends elsewhere in the world. My first thought was of them and their families. My second was for poor Lebanon, already approaching crisis thanks to the mess in Syria next door. My third, slightly ashamedly, was for the book I had just published online (and am about to launch in print on the 1st December). Where does blowing up my setting leave the book?

Of course the answer is, it doesn’t matter. I write books set in the Levant, so I have to expect my settings to be changed by conflict and the ebb and flow of the region’s quarrels. I watched the glorious old Ottoman souk in Syria’s second city, Aleppo, burning and threw my hands up – a big scene in my next book, ‘Shemlan – A Deadly Tragedy’, is set in that souk.

But it’ll be okay. As usual, life goes on around the craters and the terrible old men smoke their cigars and plan more profits as we huddle along in the shadows of broken-windowed buildings and past the bouquets laid on the streets.

Download ‘Beirut’ here: http://amzn.to/UbV84t

Order your copy of ‘Beirut’ here: http://amzn.to/QrzNZu

Download ‘Olives’ here: http://amzn.to/Tw0vuB

Order your copy of ‘Olives’ here: http://amzn.to/QrzKga

Short but Tweet interview with Mari Hannah

Today I’m pleased to welcome back my friend Mari Hannah who is celebrating the release of her second novel ‘Settled Blood’. Mari suggested, since we’re Twitter friends, that she’d try to keep the answers to 140 characters a la Twitter.

Hi Mari, welcome back to the blog! 140 characters is short, why are we trying this unique approach today? 

I’ve injured my left thumb. I had a steroid injection today. My GP said it would make the tendon brittle. If I use it, it could snap! Ouch!

‘Settled Blood’ features DCI Kate Daniels again – can we expect many more novels featuring Kate?

Yes! The 3rd in the series ‘Deadly Deceit’ is finished & ready for publication on 11th Apr 2013. The 4th is with my agent, I’m writing the 5th.

Kate is a really original character, where did she come from?

The desire to write something different, the need to tell it like it is for a section of society otherwise unrepresented in crime fiction.

I heard she first appeared in a television pilot. Is that right?

Yes, Kate has a complicated back-story and that appealed to the BBC when I pitched an idea to them. Conflicted characters make good drama!

Do you write stories not featuring Kate or is she too strong to ignore?

Shh … she might hear you! I could never ignore Kate. She’s the reason I get up in the morning. Through her I am having such a lot of fun.

The sense of place is strong in your stories, would you ever fancy writing about somewhere else?

That’s determined by the plot. Kate may be a DCI in the murder investigation team of Northumbria Police but who knows where she’ll end up?

Have your experiences in the probation service given you plenty of inspiration?

Yes, although I’d never base a fictional character on a real one. We all use personal references to inform our writing, it’s only natural.

I’ve heard so many positive reviews regarding ‘The Murder Wall’, how does it feel to have written such a well-received first book?

The reviews were amazing. It makes me very proud indeed. I’m so grateful to every single reader who has taken the trouble to give feedback.

What’s next?

‘The Settled Blood’ launch is today. A promotion tour of bookshops & events thro’ Nov. A ‘Meet the Author’ lunch at the Authors Club. Gulp!

You can chat to Mari’s in 140 character on Twitter: @mariwriter

Download ‘The Murder Wall’ – the first in the Kate Daniels series – here: http://amzn.to/Wk4OkT

Download ‘Settled Blood’ here: http://amzn.to/REpwE8

Order ‘The Murder Wall’ in paperback: http://amzn.to/X9jjXP

Order ‘Settled Blood’ in paperback here: http://amzn.to/X9jwKw

Keep up to date with Mari on her website: marihannah.com

A message from Michelle Obama

Friend —

I didn’t want this to get lost in the excitement of everything that will happen tomorrow, so I wanted to take a moment, right now, to say two simple words that I cannot say enough to all of you who have traveled this journey with us: Thank you.

Thank you for the kindness, warmth, and love that you have shown me, Barack, and especially our girls — your support and your prayers mean the world to us. Thank you for the hard work and energy and passion that you have poured into this campaign — from all those hours knocking on doors and making calls to all those times you dug a little deeper and gave what you could when it was needed the most.

Like me, you have done all this because you love this country, and you care deeply about the world we’re leaving for our kids and grandkids. And you’ve done it because, for these last four years, you have had a chance to see the man I’ve known for the past 23 years: A man of honor and integrity who knows what he believes and stays true to his values. He is an honest man who knows the facts and gives them to us straight — a man whose strength and resolve to build a better tomorrow has never wavered.

With your help, over the past four years, Barack has been able to start moving this country forward. He’s rescued our economy from the brink of collapse. He’s passed health reform and ended the war in Iraq. He’s fought to help women get equal pay for equal work, make sure students can afford college, ensure that our seniors can retire with dignity, and that our veterans can get the benefits they have earned.

For four years, Barack has been fighting to give every single one of us a fair shot at that great American dream, no matter what we look like, where we come from, or who we love.

He’s been able to do all of this only because of people like you — because of your hard work, determination, and commitment.

And tomorrow, everything we’ve been working for and fighting for is at stake. Tomorrow, we will decide whether we’ll keep moving this country forward for four more years. So make sure to tell everyone you know to vote, and then help every last supporter get to the polls before tomorrow night. You can even make calls to voters from the comfort of your own home using our call tool.

Our family has been truly blessed to share these past four years with all of you — and we can’t wait to continue our work together for the next four years. So tomorrow, let’s get out there and finish what we started:

http://my.barackobama.com/What-You-Can-Do

Thank you again for everything you’ve done and everything you will continue to do to bring about that change we all believe in.

Michelle

Vote Obama

This blog entry may cause people to stop following this blog. It may also mean I get some rather angry comments but I need to write it. This is not an unbaised post.

Barack Obama has been one of the biggest inspirations to me, ever. I admire him and feel that he has been given the rough end of what may appear to some as a very good deal: President of the United States of America.

How many people think that is an amazing job? I’m sure it is but it’s accompanied by many, many pitfalls. Not to mention the amount of strength, courage, time and effort it takes to get there.

Barack Hussein Obama (yes, that is his middle name) was born in Hawaii (yes, he truly is American). He has had a varied life, living in Indonesia for some of his childhood. Barack is a lawyer, a community organiser and an author – among many other things.

He is an idealist and I admire that. On 20th January, 2009, he was inaugurated as 44th President of the USA. On that day, 55 years, one month and 19 days since Rosa Parks had refused to give up her seat for a white person on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, a black man became President. With Obama’s inauguration, people felt hope, optimism, self-worth and inspired. His election, to me, sounded a silent tribute not only to Rosa Parks but also Dr Martin Luther King, James Meredith, JFK, Robert Kennedy and so many more who campaigned for African-American Civil Rights in the 1960s. For people who gave their live to this cause, this was their dream come true.

And mine.

For anyone who told you “You can’t do xxx”, “You’ll never be xxx” or “You don’t fit in”, this was a big fat “Yes we can!”. Barack Obama might have been told he wasn’t the “right colour” to become President. He may have been told his background wasn’t conventional enough. Barack Obama may have been regarded as “too left” or inexperienced but he didn’t let peoples’ small-mindedness stop him. Neither should you.

After becoming President, Barack Obama won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples”. I don’t see Mitt Romney being rewarded this prize anytime soon.

Obama wants to legalise same-sex marriage – the first incumbent President to publicly support this. He is pro-choice, supports the repealing of “Don’t ask, don’t tell” in the US Military, he ended US military involvement in Iraq and introduced a health care reform to ensure everyone in the US had affordable health care. Obama signed an arms control treaty with Russia.

Mitt Romney would like to increase fracking across the US and has pledged to repeal ‘Obamacare’. If it were up to Mitt Romney, US military personnel would still be in Iraq, with no end in sight. He is also against same-sex marriages and is pro-life. He would also like to limit the growth of entitlement programmes. So, if you’re not wealthy and self-sufficient: Mitt Romney isn’t interested in you. Although he does, allegedly, wear some interesting underwear.

Barack Obama has had a very large mountain to climb following his inauguration mainly due to the inadequacies of the previous Republican administration. George W. Bush started wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that Obama has had to deal with. Bush was unable to find Osama Bin Laden. He presided over one of the worst financial crises in decades, it has been left to Obama to try to help those left without jobs, healthcare and homes. He has had to battle against a Republican majority in the House of Representatives, and battle he has.

Vote for Barack Obama and give America a chance to move forwards.

Vic x